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Harold Lopez-Nussa: New Day

Ian Patterson By

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Following in the footsteps and tradition of Chucho Valdes, Gonzalo Rubalcaba and Roberto Fonseca, Harold López-Nussa is at the forefront of a new generation of Cuban jazz pianists, one that includes Rolando Luna and Marialy Pacheco—fellow winners of the Montreux Jazz Festival Solo Piano Competition. López-Nussa's win in 2005 launched an international career that has since seen him play the world's great jazz festivals and collaborate with such notables as vibraphonist Stefon Harris, saxophonist David Sanchez and trumpeter Christian Scott on the album Ninety Miles (Concorde Picante, 2011). After recording two albums in France, López-Nussa returns to Cuba and his roots on New Day and the results are never less than absorbing.

Though López-Nussa's joyous motifs, flowing runs and grooving Afro-Cuban ostinatos form the core of these original compositions brother Ruy Adrian López-Nussa's drums and percussion inform the music at every step. Whether on traditional kit, cajon, djembe or bongos Ruy's infectious rhythms drive the music in exhilarating fashion. Essentially a trio outing—with double bassist Gastón Joya the third corner of the triangle— trumpeter Mayquel González brings a splash of alternative color on the mellifluous ballad "Eso Fue Hace 20" and some real fire on the episodic "Buenos Modales" —an infectious slice of Cubana-bop complete with vocal call and response.

The leader's classical piano roots filter through on the airy piano intro to "A Degüello." An upbeat riff takes shape—a launching pad for a melody that evokes the lilting Brazilian tropicana of Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Stone Flower." On "Cimarrón" H. López-Nussa's left hand maintains an ostinato while his right roams freely, all the time shadowed and encouraged by R. López-Nussa on cajon. The Brazilian, flamenco and African influences that inhabit the melodies and rhythms throughout New Day are never dominant, enfolded instead into the mix to produce a seamless hybrid idiom.

The wonderful "Paseo" flits between carnivalesque rhythms and a reflective melodic passage featuring Joya in lyrical form. The leader mixes up stabbing percussive chords and flowing runs in an energized performance. The appropriately titled "Fantasmas En Caravana" stems from a brooding beginning before shifting towards more rhythmically dynamic terrain, the centerpiece of which is an expansive free improvisation on Fender Rhodes. H. López-Nussa cites the influence of pianist/keyboardists Emiliano Salvador and Chucho Valdés on Fender Rhodes, but his style has perhaps as much in common with Bojan Z's funky blues distortions.

There's a touch of gospel-blues on the cooking title track and a celebratory air on the rootsy, Cuban-flavored "Corriendo Por Los Portales." There's also a more delicate side to H. López-Nussa's playing, evidenced on the lovely "Otro Viaje," where the tension hovers tantalizingly between ballad and descarga, with neither quite asserting its dominance. "Enero" eschews rhythm for wintery impressionism, and closes the album in reflective mode.

Harold López-Nussa's trio's pulsating grooves and emotive interplay are consistently engaging and often exhilarating. The real success, however, of New Day lies in the seamless fusion of idioms; this is jazz at its inclusive best. It bears a Made in Cuba seal, for sure, but in embracing music from far and wide it becomes something much greater than the sum of its parts.

Track Listing: A Degüello; Cimarrón; Paseo; Fantasmas En Caravana; Otro Viaje; New Day; Corriendo Por Los Portales; Eso Fue Hace 20; Buenos Modales; Enero.

Personnel: Harold López-Nussa: piano, keyboards; Gaston Joya: double bass; Ruy Adrian López-Nussa: drums, percussion; Mayquel Gonzalez: trumpet (8-9).

Title: New Day | Year Released: 2013 | Record Label: Harmonia Mundi Jazz Village Music

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